Twenty years ago, Ron Koslow mixed romance with a fantasy-derived leading man, and the result was a memorable Friday-night CBS drama, “Beauty and the Beast.” This time, he’s backed by feature producer Joel Silver and paired with co-creator Trevor Munson on “Moonlight,” about a vampire private eye and a Lois Lane-type web reporter. Unfortunately, the series makes scant use of its undead hero’s abilities, while burdening him with a clunky Raymond Chandler-style narration that mercifully subsides slightly in the second hour. Even so, creatively speaking, it’s hardly love at first bite.
Thematically similar to the long-since-buried series “Forever Knight,” “Moonlight introduces Mick St. John (Australian thesp Alex O’Loughlin), who was transformed into a vampire 60 years ago by his ex-wife. (Ask divorced people and you’ll quickly discover this experience isn’t all that unusual.)
In the opening moments, Koslow and Munson rather awkwardly affect a talkshow format to help explain the program’s peculiar rules, like the fact that while daylight is bad for Mick, neither that nor wooden stakes are instantly fatal.
Unlike most blood-sucking loners, the pre-credit interview with this vampire also reveals a shadowy web of vampires residing in and around Los Angeles, such as Mick’s 400-year-old pal Josef (Jason Dohring), a mogul who lacks Mick’s do-gooder impulses and fears exposure to the wider world.
The story really kicks in, however, once Mick espies the lovely Beth (Sophia Myles, seen not long ago, ironically, in a “Masterpiece Theater” version of “Dracula”), a plucky gal reporter to whom he appears oddly familiar. Their across-the-decades bond, however, doesn’t compensate for how pedestrian the initial story is — playing like a conventional detective show, with Mick showcasing his otherworldly powers (strong, and very, very fast) only during a passable action sequence in the final act.
The second hour advances the Mick-Beth plot while still hewing closely to a procedural format, failing to exploit the series premise — especially given the lengthy tradition of cinematic vampire lore.
The accent-free O’Loughlin brings a hunky quality to Mick, added to the torment of his loneliness, internally musing with Beast-like melancholy, “Sixty years is a long time to deny yourself the touch of another.” Still, in the early going, he’s more Mannix than Lestat, and other than a physical resemblance to Kate Winslet, Myles’ damsel is a poor construct, owing both to the character’s cliched nature and a rather uninspired performance.
If “Moonlight” is supposed to reflect CBS’ migration away from safe and conventional fare, it’s at best a training-wheels step in that direction. Seemingly designed to dovetail with “Ghost Whisperer’s” fantastic elements, stripped to its core, the series does little more than serve up another moldy procedural with a splash of crimson, one which might finally prove that the easiest way to kill a vampire is with apathy.